PM#9 – Avoid duplication of effort

Doing the same job once is optimal.

Doing the same job twice is criminal.

Doing the same job three times is just plain stupid (this happens, I’ve seen it)

Doing the same job four or more times is criminal and plain stupid (this happens too, really, it’s true)

Duplication of effort manifests itself in many ways, a few of which I’ll discuss here:

  1. Procrastination.
    We’re all guilty of this. Put simply, we look at our to-do list and we “hum and haw” about which item(s) we want to work on. Some items are too big, we feel that we’ve not got the time to do the item justice so we put it off. Other items are boring, so we focus in on the more exciting and less tedious items. In reality we should be focusing on the items that will add the most value to the “big picture” or the overall project. If you don’t think you procrastinate, try following the suggestions in the Touch it once topic below.
  2. Two (or more) groups expecting the same information from the same source (often in a slightly different format).
    This is a “duplication of effort smell”. Folks start seeing project-related data that is of some interest to them…they start to ask for reports based around that data without realising that reports actually take time to create, they fail to recognise that the report author has other things of greater importance to the project to work on. Similarly, if the underlying data changes, the report author has considerable round-tripping (going back’n’forth) in order to push the updated information out those who [claim] that they need it.
  3. The wrong people being involved.
    Hi-jacking of information is not uncommon and is one of the “duplication of effort smells”. A project can be making good progress, then all of a sudden, somebody starts taking an interest in parts of the project that really are outside of their skill-base. This is actually similar to 2 above whereby the wrong people sudden get involved by asking for reports/data in a format that suits them. They often join the party late, i.e. they did not realise that the data might have been important to them at the start of the project. If the wrong people are involved, it often manifests itself by virtue of the fact they have arrived on the scene after the scene of crime officer has been and gone, or by virtue of the fact they do not use the report/data correctly (or at all).
  4. Failing to start it…finish it.
    Similar to procrastinating, we often find ourselves revisiting an activity or task thus incurring the “start-up smell” whereby we have to spend time “getting back up to speed”. Interruptions are a key indicator that tasks will be started and returned to at least once prior to completion.

Touch it once
During a discussion about time management, a colleague pointed out a technique that appealed to me. How often do you pick up a document, look at it, procrastinate over it, then put it down again? You’d only be human if you agreed that you frequently pick documents up more than once! My colleague presented a well-known technique that catches this procrastination: each time you touch the document, you mark it with a red dot…the measles inducer. When you reach three red dots, you should agree with yourself that something has to be done with it. More about this common time management technique can be found here.

Of course, touching it more than once is a duplication of effort smell and the red dots will be the give-away…

The perils of the solution…
Obviously solving any duplication of effort requires that the duplication is identified. There are many reliable methods of doing this, not least a basic work-flow analysis. However, identification is the least important part of the solution. Once identified, removing the duplication enters into the realms of a political quagmire. The parties responsible for each part of the duplication will endeavour to prove that their duplicated process is the best one and that one that should be kept. They’ll also argue that their process is required for their day-to-day business, or that it is critical to the project or is just part of the fixtures and fittings (an unwritten policy or procedure if you prefer). This is your biggest problem, convincing those involved in the duplication to change their ways, to accept a single more optimal, more efficient way of achieving the same – a way that costs less, is completed quicker (early access to benefits, etc.) and generally makes the project more friendly and more approachable.

You may also encounter push-back when tackling item 2 above. Folks will cite “systems” as their need for the same data in different formats. “Our XYZ system needs project activities to be recorded in days”…whereas…”our ABC system requires project activities to be records in hours”. An easy conversion between hours and days may be possible, however in reality, different folks work a different number of hours per day. In such situations, where folks are perhaps being blinkered by the proximity of their problem and the need for the data in their format, where folks are unable to think out of the box, we must find a way of allowing them to take a step back from the problem itself. This will allow them to see the bigger picture, to understand the problem in context, to realise that they might need to change their processes in order to provide a better service now and in the future.

Whether you identify those involved in the duplication before or after you streamline the duplication down to a single activity, is up to you. In some instances it might be better to invite “the duplicators” into a [stand-up] meeting that can be used to determine the streamlined activity…this might win you friends and get you more buy-in. Either way, identification and removal of duplicated effort is paramount and should be embraced by all parties.

In this series:
#8 – Multi-tasking is evil
#7 – High workload means lower productivity…
#6 – You were right and I was wrong
#5 – Whose schedule is it anyway?
#4 – Start it…finish it
#3 – Use e-mail properly
#2 – Focus on the project
#1 – decision making